Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
"I AM the Bread of Life," says Jesus. "The one who comes to me will never hunger and the one who believes in me will never thirst" (John 6:35). Wow, Jesus, that's deep. "I AM the Living Bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, He will live forever. And the bread that I give for the life of the world is My flesh" (John 6:51). Wait, what? "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you" (John 6:53). Ok, now this is just weird.
Bread and flesh. It's God's way of feeding. The Israelites got manna in the morning and quail at night for their daily bread. Jesus fed the thousands with loaves and fishes. Bread and flesh. But Jesus' flesh? And blood? How can we...wait! He must be talking about the Sacrament of the Altar. "Take, eat, this is My body...drink of it all of you, this cup is the New Testament in My blood" (Words of Institution). But Luther famously said that John 6 was not about the Lord's Supper. And Jesus Himself says just a few verses later, "It is the Spirit who makes alive; the flesh benefits nothing" (John 6:63). Now what are we to do?
We confess that there are two kinds of eating. In John 6, when Jesus speaks of the Bread of Life, He's talking about the first kind and anticipating the second; on the night in which He is betrayed when He institutes His Supper, He gives us to do the second kind in order to strengthen the first.
There is a twofold eating of Christ's flesh. One is spiritual, which Christ describes especially in John 6:54. This "eating" happens in no other way than with the Spirit and faith, in preaching and meditation on the Gospel, as well as in the Lord's Supper...The other eating of Christ's body is oral or sacramental, when Christ's true, essential body and blood are orally received and partaken of in the Holy Supper by all who eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine in the Supper (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VII.61, 63).
Spiritual eating is whenever the Word of God is apprehended by faith. It is spiritual eating because it's the work of the Spirit. We receive the words and promises of Christ as true bread from heaven that strengthen us and preserve, not only in our souls, but also in our bodies. Philosophy (and human nature) presumes that in order to apprehend spiritual things, you need to abandon material things, like flesh and blood. But Jesus says that this spiritual bread that comes down from heaven is His flesh. Philosophy gets it backwards. We do not need to ascend to Jesus in heaven to apprehend spiritual things; He comes down from heaven to give it to us in the flesh.
Bodily eating takes place in the Sacrament—bread and wine in the mouth. While spiritual eating is always by faith, this second kind of eating is by the Word of Christ. "This is My body; this is My blood," and "is" means "is" regardless of whether you believe it or not. The problems start to come when these two kinds of eating are confused. The people in Capernaum (where Jesus taught in John 6) thought that Jesus wanted them to walk up to Him and start gnawing on His arm. But we do not eat Jesus' flesh and blood in such a Capernaitic way. We don't chew and digest His body and blood like other food. His divine Body and Blood are united with bread and wine in a mysterious, sacramental way. And so when we eat His Body and Blood with our mouths, it's not broken down and made part of our bodies, but we are made a part of His body.
Two kinds of eating. Both of them are necessary for the Sacrament. Because of the Word of Christ, the bread is the body, the body is in the bread; the cup is the blood, the blood is in the cup. Everyone who eats and drinks eats and drinks Body and Blood. But by faith and the Holy Spirit we receive this Body and Blood for a benefit—eternal life now and on the Last Day.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, Missouri.
Created: August 21st, 2016